Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship: The Evolving Role of the Professor

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

By Stephen Higham, M.A. - Policy Analyst

Universities have always been essential contributors to their communities. But they are increasingly being turned to as resources to resolve pressing social and economic challenges in the communities they serve, and as important bridges between the academy and these communities.

These professors play an essential (but often underappreciated) role within in Canada’s innovation ecosystem. Not only do they produce original research, lead major projects, and contribute to the day-to-day administration of our universities, they also provide mentorship to the next generation of thinkers and entrepreneurs.

There are nearly 17,000 professors in Canada across a range of disciplines, and they are the backbone of what is arguably our greatest strength as an innovative nation: research excellence. Canada is among the most educated countries in the world, ranking first in the OECD in the percentage of adults aged 25–64 who have obtained a tertiary education, and Canadian universities are globally competitive: three of them appear in the top global overall rankings.

Canada is also an international leader in our contribution to scholarly knowledge. We rank seventh in the world in the number of publications tracked in the Scopus database, and our researchers contributed 4.1 percent of the global total of 9.6 million research publications over 2005–2010,[1] despite being home to just 0.5 percent of the global population. Canada also ranks well against peer countries, publishing a larger share of scientific articles than countries such as Germany, the United States, and Japan.

Professors are the key to all of this, but their role is changing and the traditional model of “professor lectures and student listens” no longer fits the needs of the 21st century. Students — and indeed Canadians — expect professors to educate their students with knowledge specific to their discipline while also providing them with the skills they need to succeed in today’s knowledge economy.

We need graduates who can become entrepreneurs and innovators.

We tend to associate the term “innovation” with things like smartphone applications or new technologies, but increasingly, the term might describe a research project to develop interactive ways to boost the engagement of festival-goers, or to track crime patterns in Canadian cities, as examples. Such initiatives might be considered examples of social innovation.

Is social innovation an emerging priority for researchers? Has the role of the professor changed in recent decades? What is the relationship between the professor and the entrepreneur? Are we providing professors and their students with the skills, resources and opportunities they need to be successful in their evolving roles? Join us to discuss these questions at the Mitacs-hosted event, “The professor as social innovator – evolving roles on campus and in communities” on May 31, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in the Main Expo Event Space.

Mitacs is also hosting “Expanding community: Using your research in a Mitacs internship” on May 30, 2016, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in Kinesiology B-126.

About Mitacs
Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that delivers research and training programs. We work with universities, companies and governments to build partnerships that support social and industrial innovation in Canada.

[1] Council of Canadian Academies. (2013). Paradox lost: explaining Canada’s research strength and innovation weakness. Ottawa: Advisory Group, Council of Canadian Academies. 



Congress of the Humanities and Social SciencesCongress 2016